Teams from eLab, Cornell’s student accelerator, and Cornell Tech’s Runway Startups program shared their business ideas to an audience full of members of the West Coast Cornell community at the Student Startup Showcase, presented by Cornell Silicon Valley, on March 30 at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco.
The keynote was delivered by Krystyn J. Van Vliet, the recently appointed vice president for research and innovation, and Amy Bunszel ’89 provided introductory remarks to the crowd. Bunszel serves as Executive Vice President of Architecture, Engineering and Construction Design Solutions for Autodesk. She is also a member of the President’s Council for Cornell Women and the Advisory Council for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.
The event gave top student startups the chance to pitch their businesses to fellow students, mentors, entrepreneurs, alumni and Silicon Valley professionals, who had the opportunity to network with the presenters and offer expert feedback. It provided Cornell alumni with a glimpse into what current students can accomplish in Cornell’s entrepreneurial environment.
“Krystyn J. Van Vliet and Amy Bunszel gave our students important insight right from the start. This opportunity to not only pitch their startups to West Coast alumni, but also conduct customer discovery interviews, was incredible,” said Ken Rother, managing director of eLab and lecturer at the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business. “That real-world experience is invaluable for these young entrepreneurs.”
eLab startup Sleeve was one of the teams to pitch at the showcase. Founded by Gary Phan ‘23, Serena Huang ’24 and Ioana Nechiti ’24, Sleeve is a Chrome extension that allows consumers to be more mindful about who they purchase from by prioritizing sustainable and ethical fashion brands.
"It was such an amazing experience to be able to share the big stage with such talented entrepreneurs,” Phan said. “A year ago, I would have never imagined myself pitching to anyone, especially not an audience in San Francisco. Moments like this and the connections that we made make the treacherous journey of a startup worth it."
MBA student Ian Cairns, founder of Cair Fare, also pitched his startup. Cair Fare is dedicated to delivering delicious and functional food products that promote a sense of well-being. Cairns recalled making meaningful connections with showcase attendees who showed interest in his business.
"The Student Startup Showcase was an incredible experience to present my venture and support my fellow student entrepreneurs. During the event, I pitched Cair Fare's business concept and progress, then invited the audience to join my first virtual cooking class,” Cairns said. “I also connected with several entrepreneurial and venture capital Cornell alumni at the event's reception. These alumni were excited to show their support, and I am continuing conversations with them in the coming weeks to help further accelerate my venture."
Students also had the opportunity to speak with Justin Smithline, MBA ’04, and Aaron Walls MBA ’14, during the trip. They answered questions and shared their entrepreneurship experience and expertise. Smithline is an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Center for Regional Economic Advancement and works in venture capital as co-founder and partner of Triple Impact Capital. Walls, a 2014 eLab alumnus who currently provides mentorship as an eLab advisory board member, is founder of BeerMkr, a device designed to make home beer brewing easier.
The evening brought together Cornell Silicon Valley, eLab, Runway Startups, Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the Student Agencies Foundation to highlight innovation throughout the Cornell community.